In Dumaguete, The Arts Flourish Part 13: The Literary Grind
It is arguably difficult to measure the ebbs and flows of the writing life compared to most of the other creative arts. There is always the cue we take of the applause at the finish of a performance, whether dance, or drama, or a musical extravaganza; and there is always the palpable and visceral reaction of the beholder upon seeing a painting or a sculpture or a photograph — and architecture solidly occupies space in the landscape that it cannot help but invite instant reflection.
But literature? This one is enjoyed often in the privacy of a sequestered mind — with the reader putting down a finished book, and reflecting quietly on the words they have just read. Of course, there are other [more public] markers of “literary success” comparable to the reception of its creative cousins: a public reading inviting applause, a piece winning a literary award, a book being published and launched, a work being accepted to a prestigious writing workshop, a work being accepted for publication in a magazine or journal, a book entering a bestseller list. Their common denominator is “acceptance,” and to quote speculative fictionist Stewart Stafford, “All writing is a message in a bottle, cast into the sea in the forlorn hope of recognition and acceptance.” But in the time of the pandemic, most of these markers grounded to a halt, and what deepened — if you were a writer still intent on writing despite the world coming to an end — was the very basic condition of the writing life: its solitariness.
Solitariness is not necessarily a sad thing. According to novelist William Faulkner: “Writing is a solitary job — that is, no one can help you with it, but there’s nothing lonely about it. I have always been too busy, too immersed in what I was doing, either mad at it or laughing at it to have time to wonder whether I was lonely or not lonely. It’s simply solitary. I think there is a difference between loneliness and solitude.” This is true — but writing in the pandemic also made it lonely for many writers: cooped up in the lockdown, the solitariness of the writing became an escape, but when we needed escape from the escape, there was only quarantine to face, and the fear of the outside world to bear.
But the writing experience during the pandemic was not a monolith. There was a variety to it, with some writers declaring going down into the depths of idleness and madness as the pandemic deepened, while others welcoming the respite to churn out works they’d been trying to finish for years but couldn’t because of other obligations [obligations which were suddenly nullified, giving them no more excuses to delay what needed doing]. For many, it was the combination of the two, with months bursting with creativity, and months that invited nothing else but bingeing on Netflix. And so the writing continued, or did not continue, depending on whom you asked.
In the meantime, the markers disappeared, especially in 2020. Gone were the poetry readings or the communal workshops, which necessitated face-to-face interactions. Gone were the awards, the Palanca famously going on hiatus for two years — the first time it has done so since its inception in 1950. Gone were the workshops planned for the year — with the Silliman University National Writers Workshop and other similar workshops finally, and awkwardly, going on Zoom-mode as 2021 dawned. The processes of publications, of course, continued on because their very nature proved immune to the systemic ravages of the pandemic: writers still wrote, still submitted to publications far and wide, still received either acceptances or rejections, repeat. And readers still read — and read voraciously.
In time, even with the pandemic still raging, some of the old normalcy returned.
There were readings again. The first one we attended was a May 2022 reading and a talk with Mitos Suson, a Cebuana author who had accepted an invitation to stay in Dumaguete for a while. She had just published Shards of Time, her memoir/novel about the Martial Law, and it was an opportune time to do a reading with her — but it was an intimate affair, hosted by 451°F Books and Café’s Mike Reyes and Lea Sicat-Reyes, small enough not to arouse much of our pandemic paranoia. That small event became the catalyst to holding bigger physical events — including a reading of the graphic novel ZsaZsa Zaturnnah for Pride Month 2022, still at 451°F Books and Café, with author Carlo Vergara as special guest [over Zoom]. Later that month, in July 2022, the local Department of Trade and Industry [DTI] held its annual 6200 PopUp creative expo and culinary fair, for the first time in two years — and part of it was a day dedicated to literary arts, curated by Dum.Alt.Press, which came complete with authors’ talks and panels, a creative writing workshop with Daniella Spontak, a screening of Dumaguete short films, and a poetry reading hosted by the Renaissance Youth Leaders Forum and Ang Sandigan. Ms. Spontak herself curated several spoken poetry exhibitions at Shelter Gallery and MUGNA Gallery in the succeeding months before leaving Dumaguete for London in 2023.
There were literary awards again. When the Palanca Award returned in 2022, it was my honor to win first prize for the short story in English for “Ceferina in Apartment 2G,” something I wrote loosely based on my mother’s brief experience as an immigrant to the U.S., where she came to live with my brother Rey in Los Angeles. [She promptly returned to the Philippines within two years.] It was a story I labored in the doldrums of the pandemic, in 2021, when all I felt was being bereft of anchor and only storytelling felt like the only thing that could save me. A few months after I finished that story, I also received the KSSLAP Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which recognized my contributions to literary arts and cultural work — a prestigious award that I had received even when I was completely mired in a mental health spiral, and I could not see the future beyond the emptiness I saw in that empty Luce Auditorium where the awarding ceremony was being held. But winning the Palanca the next year felt like a jolt of hope, a window to seeing that I was being recognized for work I had done in the middle of my pandemic darkness — and perhaps it also served as my necessary push into believing that things would be fine.
There were workshops again, the SUNWW going on to host two editions online.
And there were books being published again. The Sands and Coral, Silliman’s literary journal founded in 1948, brought out an Editor’s Issue in 2021, featuring works by all the editors of the journal, from pioneering writers Aida Rivera Ford and Cesar Jalandoni Amigo to latter editors including yours truly and Misael Ondong. In February 2023, it brought out two issues, Pandemonium [for Sand and Coral 2022, edited by Albertha Lachmi Obut and Patch Puengan] and Pagsubang [for Sand and Coral 2023, edited by Pia Alvarez, Isabel Torres, and Yudi Santillan III], which also included winning fiction and essay pieces that touched on the timely theme of “Hope, Transformation, and Rebuilding after the Pandemic.” [Jon Paculba won first place for fiction, and Paul Donaire won first place for essay.]
Zamboanga writer Sigrid Marianne Gayangos, who had moved to Dumaguete right before the pandemic and finally left to teach in Davao in 2023, used her lockdown in Dumaguete to teach mathematics online, and to put together her first collection titled Laut: Stories, published by the University of the Philippines Press in 2022. Of the book, poet Marjorie Evasco writes: “This first collection of thirteen stories by Sigrid Gayangos brings us back to the primal waters of the imagination. In the Malayo-Polynesian language of seafarers, laut is the name for the ocean on whose currents they rode to reach thousands of islands scattered in the Southern Pacific Ocean, some of them so small, and from time to time disappearing with the flow of the tides. In the thrall of stories inhabited by humans and more-than-humans, we echo Sigrid Gayangos’s praise of the seas and the oceans ‘for rolling relentlessly around the world, for reminding us of our smallness, for showing us how things are connected, for instilling a deep sense of wonder, for the air we breathe, for food, for the singing of the waves, for literally and figuratively everything. May we be better stewards of this water planet.’ To read each of these stories with care is to joyfully say yes!”
But even earlier, a history teacher in Bayawan was moved to do something with the pandemic, and resolved to put on paper her recollection of the simple life in a small barrio in that southern Negrense agricultural city — and somehow managed to weave these into tales that showcased heritage which she felt was fast disappearing. Her name is Dara Tumaca-Ramos of Malabugas, Bayawan, who studied to become a teacher at St. Paul University Dumaguete, and later worked as a social studies instructor at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod. The book she managed to write is titled Sang Una: Stories From the Barrio, and in her introduction, she writes: “Life is not always filled with grand and extraordinary events. More often, it is filled with ordinary and mundane daily occurrences which give life to life itself. It is in the ordinary circumstances, in the daily grind, as one might say, that culture is lived and passed on to the younger generations. But with the fast-paced, technology-driven world we live in, most of what we have treasured that form part of our heritage as a people are also rapidly disappearing in front of our very eyes. So many of these treasures are forgotten with the passing of years, or lost with our older folks passing o to the next life without being able to share these legacies to those left behind.”
“And then the pandemic happened,” she continues. “As people got cooped in their houses and food was rationed, there seemed to be especially among city dwellers, an awakening in the longing for life in the province. A life where social distancing was not a concern, where growing your own food was the norm, and playing outdoors with cousins and neighbors until dusk was a daily pattern of childhood.” She provides an answer to that longing with poignant observations of farm life, including the various processes of rice farming — from uprooting seedlings [panggabot] to planting [patanom], from harvesting [paani] to threshing [mapalinas]; bamboo cutting [panggama]; bamboo-weaving [manglag-i]; buying fish from the shore [panugbong]; catching crabs [panulo]; catching flying fish [pamanse]; and gathering tuba [pananggot]; as well as detailing stories of specific personages such as the aswang and the manugluy-a [the barrio doctor]; and traditions such as a wake [bilasyon] and games played at wakes [bordon], dancing [bayle], and firing bamboo cannons, among others. Sang Una also takes care to situate its stories in the unique language of the Malabugas community [Kiniray-a, from the Panay immigrants that settled there], and always minutely observant of the specific traditions it chooses to describe. Ms. Tumaca-Ramos would independently publish Sang Una in May 2021.
The visual artist Hersley-Ven Casero and I also released a children’s book, The Great Little Hunter, a picture book and art book put out by a local publisher, Pinspired, in April 2022 — which also inspired an exhibition at MUGNA Gallery later that year, in December. In recollection, I have no idea how I came to put out this book, and to put out a Palanca-winning story, even when I remember the pandemic days to be an endless span of three years with gaping nothingness. How did that happen? Where did those specific bursts of tangible creativity come from?
Tackling these questions to make sense of my own literary output during the pandemic actually makes me nervous. Truth to tell, what has always remained clear to me, as I conclude this series of essays about the creative arts in Dumaguete in the throes of the lockdown, is that I really had no choice but to put the essay on the literary arts last — simply because I knew somehow it would limn the edges of autobiography, even the confessional. But I have written about this before, when I noted that writing in the pandemic became my savior as it deepened, and with it the stability of my mental health even as I spiraled outside of it. To make it easy to understand, here is my summation: when I was writing, I was fine; when I was not writing, I was lost in the storm. Not writing was often my status quo. But when I wrote, I was happy — and rewarded for it. But keeping at it was not easy.
Take the confessions of other Dumaguete writers.
From poet Simon Anton Diego Baena: “The pandemic period was my most productive year. I was living on the edge because I had nothing else to do. I never knew what could happen. And the pervasive presence of death fueled my desire to write more and more poems. I was also depressed for half of that first year because my wife was in Iligan and I was stuck here in Bais, which I dubbed Ciudad de los Muertos. [Strangely enough], the news of [pandemic] deaths on TV encouraged me to write about a more personal subject — specifically about my father’s passing — that I couldn’t let go of. It was like a shadow that never left me. It was like a noose around my neck.”
From poet Lyde Sison Villanueva: “I was productive during the first few months. I planned [and started] a couple of writing projects. I completed the Written Comprehensive Exam for my MFA. I revised old works and submitted them to various publications. And was published once. A year or so after the start of the pandemic, I got exhausted and I couldn’t focus on writing again. Life happened, and I had other priorities. But this year, in 2023, I’m starting to write again. But I became more selective and conscious of how I was using my time. I’m committed to take care of myself more, health-wise. I now strive to spend more quality time with family and friends. I don’t let my work compromise my mental health and personal life.”
From medical doctor and fictionist/essayist Justine Megan Yu: “During the pandemic, I went back to a previous idea for a longer piece: a personal piece about a year in my life where I wrote three eulogies. I wove these together into an essay and submitted it to a creative writing workshop specifically for doctor-writers. I was accepted into that workshop and spent a few weekends happily being in the online company of doctor-writers. Most of us were readers growing up, and wanted to write, but didn’t have the courage to pursue a career in writing or were encouraged to do something ‘more stable’ or ‘more realistic.’ It was nice to know there were others like me, who loved to read and write, who went into the medical profession and still had this urge to write and share what we wrote. But the pandemic gave me the opportunity to slow down. My medical fellowship training was paused because my specialty center that catered mostly to non-urgent, outpatient cases closed. I still went on duty at the hospital but I had less paperwork to do. This freed up my mind to go back to reading non-medical things and back to writing for myself again. However, I was not productive, writing-wise, because I only came up with that essay. But after years and years of not writing anything, I think that was productive enough for me. Still, the pandemic brought a clarity to my choices — what I really wanted to do with this one life, what kind of person I wanted to become, what kind of person did I want to spend my years with.”
From health worker and poet Andre Aniñon: “Surprisingly, I was productive! I didn’t write every day — but I was able to pen two stories in the first year of the pandemic. Still, it was definitely more productive than the years of not writing I spent prior. [The last formal piece I finished prior to the pandemic was in 2018.] I could attribute my pandemic productivity to the little ‘quarantine book club’ my friends and I had set up to try and give structure to our otherwise shapeless days. We started with novels, but seeing that most couldn’t commit to reading hundreds of pages within a week, we moved to short stories. One of the stories we read during that time was the late Luis Katigbak’s ‘Subterrania,’ where I found a comrade in one of the characters, Kaye, who at one point in the story, said: ‘I love these [stories] … because even the worst of them, in their own way, are perfect. Better than a life of uncertainty. They have beginnings and endings. I get the world distilled in its purest form.’ I saved the entire passage as a note in my phone. Early in the pandemic, when so much of the world was upended, I was left, as a healthcare worker, to struggle navigating this ‘new normal.’ All I wanted at the end of every tiring shift and commute was a sense of structure and certainty. Reading gave me that. And when I was not content with finding that structure and certainty in reading, I took refuge and I tried to understand things, and I found solace in writing.
“But perhaps the greatest effect that this pandemic had on me was this realization and dread in thinking that nothing was so certain anymore. It was common to hear, every day, especially early in the pandemic, that the days were the same because of work suspensions and quarantine and endless hours of ‘staying at home.’ But I found that sentiment further from the truth. Life then was so unpredictable: one day I’d hear of someone I know being hospitalized due to COVID-like symptoms, and the next day I’d hear of their deaths. There was this grief that surrounded everything. And on some days, I’d keep on thinking: my God, what if COVID would get to me? And what if I’d pass it on to my loved ones? What if someone in the bus I rode to and from work carried the virus? What if the patient in front of me was infected but just asymptomatic? Working in a small laboratory at that time, we weren’t really given that much assurance and protection as to what would happen if we did contract the virus. Even coming from bigger hospitals, some of my friends felt the same way. So much of COVID and its manifestations were, as of then, unknown. And as a healthcare worker, I couldn’t exactly ‘stay at home’ until we were given answers. We had to continue despite it all. The fact that people thought all of COVID was a scam for us to accumulate money — the irony, given the realities of healthcare workers in this country — didn’t help. So even though I was ‘out and about’ in the world, because of this grief and uncertainty, I still felt cooped in some form of enclosure. It was in this darkness that I tried to find solace in reading and writing.”
From student and poet/fictionist Junelie Velonta: “Before the lockdowns of 2020, I was able to qualify for my first writers workshop in February of 2020. It was my first exposure to everything ‘creative writing’ so I did a lot of catching up during the first year or so of the lockdown. A panelist at the workshop gave me a copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘Steering the Craft’ and I spent time reading that during the early [months of] lockdowns. Some of the finger exercises recommended by Le Guin became seeds of stories, and I’ve turned two into actual short stories. From then on, I’d written three stories — one, a fantasy; another, something noir-ish; and another, a screenplay for a period short film. The first two I was able to submit to the SUNWW. The screenplay was the result of a two-week-long screenplay writing workshop organized by the De La Salle University. I’ve submitted the fantasy piece for publishing a few times now but the most I’ve gotten are two personal rejections, which I frame positively in my mind, since I have only started writing seriously over the last four years or so.
“Perhaps one of the reasons that I have been writing actively in the last three years is the exploration that I’ve been able to do because of the pandemic, not just because of the spare time, but also because it allowed me to see, converse, and observe people who I would have not met if I had turbo-ed through my STEM education and holed up in the third floor of the Science Complex [at Silliman]. Seeing the good and the bad, the moral and the questionable, the selfless and the self-serving sides of people — family, relatives, friends, politicians — educated me on the kinds of people in a community. In turn, they inspired me to create characters. The semi-constant presence of the radio broadcast in our home revealed to me that storytelling, the way Nicky Dumapit and Anthony Maginsay from DYWC do it, can reveal softer, ‘unworded’ truths that hard journalism can sometimes gloss over. Thus, my experiences during the pandemic solidified my ‘purpose’ on being serious about writing.
“But to frame how the pandemic affected me as a person and as a writer, I must mention that I am a STEM student, and a son, and a brother. My father retired right before the lockdowns, but developed TB at the height of COVID, and had a stroke and heart attack a year or so after that TB diagnosis. All of his retirement benefits were suddenly gone, and we had to sell our plot of land in Valencia where we had planned to build a house. These problems piled on top of doing online classes, and there was filial pressure to finish early so I could fund the education of my siblings. With the ever-worsening economy as manifested by the rising prices, the pandemic both radicalized and paralyzed me. I have developed a deep anger to the state and the status-quo, but also an overwhelming pressure to persist within it to build a future for those I treasure most. I can’t see myself developing radical beliefs and doing extremist actions, even in writing, simply because my sisters and brother look to me for guidance and support. The pandemic has made me an angry individual, student, and writer, but I have to make this anger die down because I can’t let the pot boil over.”
From fictionist Tara De Leon: “As the only able-ish bodied member of our household, I became the quarantine tribute–keeper of the barangay pass — and so, between having to wait at checkpoints and at hour-long lines to get into the grocery and sanitizing said groceries and cooking while struggling with my contamination anxiety, there wasn’t much time to write. The elaborate ceremonies drained me physically, mentally, emotionally. I checked out. It didn’t help that all ‘my year’ plans for 2020 were canceled. My partner met my family during my sister’s wedding in January 2020. Later that same year, I meant to travel to meet his family where we would officially announce our engagement. But borders closed globally. The pandemic felt eternal. Not knowing when borders would open, or if they ever even would, brought about new worries. So in June of 2021, he ended things. And I couldn’t do ‘girls’ nights’ because there was a pandemic out there and an 8 PM curfew. And I couldn’t book a ticket to fly to him to try and win him back because I couldn’t even leave the island! I had no outlet for all my feelings so I finally turned to writing. There was still a lot left unsaid in that relationship, but I cut off all communication with him — so I wrote letters I’d never send. It was cathartic. I don’t write letters anymore, I don’t feel the need to. Though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still reeling from the changes, even after almost two years. My pandemic story isn’t typical I guess but, it is what it is.”
And from the great Cesar Ruiz Aquino: “Pandemic or no pandemic, I was waning in my capacity to write poems. It feels like our species is paying for our meanness.”
The stories feel like a mix of somber reflections and surprised productivity. But there are bright spots, especially in terms of another marker of literary success: book-selling. For some reason, before the pandemic, there were only five “bookstores” in Dumaguete — a heritage establishment that has, frankly speaking and even though I love the store, has seen better days [Caballes Bookstore along Perdices Street], two that sold “pre-loved books [XIQ Books in the bowels of LuPega Building along Locsin Street and BookSale at Robinsons Place], a Christian outfit [Philippine Christian Book Store along Calle San Jose], and a tottering mainstream behemoth [National Bookstore, also at Robinsons Place]. Truth to tell, many would not even consider these establishments as “real bookstores,” and even NBS closed its doors for good the moment the mall was locked down because of the pandemic. And then, for the longest time, the feeling was that — for a place like Dumaguete that sometimes calls itself a “city of literature” — it was sobering to note there were no bookstores around. Can a literary city be “literary” when there are no bookstores around?
In 2020, right in the middle of the first year of lockdown, something in that status quo changed: a new bookstore opened shop. Ikaduhang Andana [Binisaya for “second floor”], located in the attic of the Solon house in the compound right behind the SUMC Medical Specialty Building, was the brainchild of 19-year-old Natania Shay Du. And for a while, it felt like water quenching thirst in a literary desert. “In the process of building the bookstore and connecting with the community…we realized that, because of the pandemic, there is an immediate need for more accessible education in any way,” Ms. Du told Renz Torres in an interview for MetroPost the month it opened. What’s more, her focus on Philippine publications felt like a gift. But then, the bookstore quietly closed shop within a year. And that felt like a heartbreak. [It has to be noted, however, that two more bookstores opened in its wake: PhindBooks along Aldecoa Drive, which caters to foreign trade books, and 451°F Books and Café, which caters to comic books and graphic novels.]
Enter Gayle Acar almost two years later.
Born and raised in Manila, she graduated from the UP College of Fine Arts, and had worked as a musician, a store supervisor, a personal stylist, and a graphic designer. In April 2022, Ms. Acar moved to Dumaguete with her husband Ernest and their two girls. “But I’ve been coming to Dumaguete since 2009, when I first met the parents of my husband [then my boyfriend] in Bais. Since then I would visit a few times a year, for gatherings or holidays,” she says. “My husband and I have always talked about moving to Dumaguete, for the slower pace and to be closer to nature, but couldn’t, due to my husband’s office work.”
But the pandemic hit, and work switched to a hybrid set-up. “And after spending too much time indoors, we just decided to finally relocate,” Ms. Acar says. “I was also homeschooling my kids and part of it was spending time studying nature, which was a struggle in Manila. Now we can go to the beach or mountains whenever we feel like it. We also live within walking distance to the bookshop.” There were other things she loved about Dumaguete: “The environment and stress-free living just inspires you to create,” she says. “And I’ve heard of writers workshops here before. But it was when we moved last year that we saw a lot of newly opened galleries and artist hubs.” These were incentives to the move.
In August 2020, prior to the Dumaguete move, she started LibrAria Books on Instagram. “It was primarily to sell books that my kids have outgrown. It was a blink decision to call the enterprise ‘LibrAria,’ because I was initially selling my daughter Aria’s books. We were beginning homeschool as well, and were trying to source books for our curriculum. It was hard to find most of the titles here, and I somehow found myself developing a skill for finding rare and beautiful books. I documented them through photos, and soon LibrAria became my visual playground.”
She ended up falling in love with bookselling, and pursuing it full time. She started with thirty titles, which became a hundred, to almost a thousand over a week-long drop. On ordinary days, she would post about two hundred titles on her Instagram account.
But it helped that she had always loved books. “Books have always been my companion,” Ms. Acar says. “Being surrounded by them makes me feel like I belong. I spend hours scouring and flipping through them at thrift shops, my kids browsing alongside me. Years before that, my husband proposed to me in a bookshop, and we got married in a library. Even more years prior, while in college, you would find me seeking solace within library walls and stacks of books.”
Establishing LibrAria in the middle of the pandemic felt like the right thing to do. “It was a time when we were confined and stifled, and LibrAria provided us with an opportunity to pass our time in creative ways, and try our best to live in spite of fear. It was just like any clean-up/garage sale but turned out to be my ikigai,” she says.
There was also the fact that running the bookstore combined all her interests. “It’s my love for retail, customer service, and visual merchandising that inspires me to make the online experience as personal as possible,” she says. This includes the process of curating titles [“meticulously selected, relentlessly hunted”]; putting them into themes like Fairies/Japan; arranging them into a teaser [“focal point, levels, balance”]; doing the photography [“the teaser, each book’s content, illustrations, flaws … my love for documenting books in a romantic flat lay plus dramatic lighting”]; scheduling [“sequencing, invoicing, shipping”]; designing graphics [“schedules, glossaries”]; custom wrapping [“stamps, stickers, flowers”]; and book recommendations [“I keep track of preferences”].
LibrAria on Instagram proved an instant success. Part of it, as mentioned above, was her attention to detail in her retailing of the books she was selling. “I am also passionate about retail and the customer experience, so I made packaging as personal as possible, with stickers, ribbons or lace, and flowers. It was also a way of connecting with the outside world during a time that everyone was indoors.”
Moving to Dumaguete meant moving the business as well — but it was easy to do, since the enterprise was mostly done online. But the more she thought about it, the more she felt that LibrAria needed a brick-and-mortar equivalent at this stage of the business. And so, in December 2022, the Acars opened their first physical store in 58 EJ Blanco, a collective enterprise of artists and entrepreneurs in Dumaguete.
“I used to keep my stocks at home, but it seemed more practical to keep them somewhere else. And I’ve been coming to 58 EJ Blanco since we moved to Dumaguete, and I loved the community there,” Ms. Acar says. “One of the artists showed me a space — which inspired me to create a hidden bookshop, with a shelf for a door, something that would transport you to a different time once you are inside. I also wanted it to represent my store on Instagram, how it would feel when you would expand the flat lays with flowers and antiques. It is also a representation of my introverted self.”
But it was a challenge opening the bookstore. “We only had less than a month to build, because we wanted to open in time for the art bazaar at 58 last December. So we did the essentials first, and refined details after the opening.” Another challenge for her was balancing and bridging the online/offline experience of LibrAria. “We are also learning about different customer profiles online and offline, and their preferred titles and genres,” she says.
Now, the bookstore has grown, including its curation of titles. “I would like to provide beautiful educational books for homeschooling families,” Ms. Acar says. “Also Filipiniana selections for transient guests, antiquarian titles for collectors, and a showcase Dumaguete-based writers’ and illustrators’ works. We are more than a bookshop, we also want to build a community of readers, through literary events and customer engagement.” The aim is “to become a source of inspiration for writers and artists, through books, or meeting colleagues and enthusiasts,” and to do that she envisions LibrAria to host a variety of activities to expand their community, including storytelling for children and families, workshops that would promote books on local culture and history, and others. “We are learning as we go along,” Ms. Acar says. “It was initially a passion project. But now, meeting the writers’ community in Dumaguete, we are exploring how we can give support or be a platform for their voices and their work.”
That last bit, a focus on Dumaguete writers in her bookstore, is the best draw — and one of the pandemic’s best gifts to Dumaguete literary arts.